BOSTON -- Theo Epstein is right: The Red Sox will survive this swoon.
And here's a big reason why, Sox fans: The Yankees are your friends.
Get used to the thought. You need the Yankees.
Forget about the division. It's OK. Let the Yankees win it. The trade-off is worth it to the Sox, because the Yankees are the best insurance policy the Sox could possibly have for the wild card.
So root for Jetes and Tex, CC and "Jesus is Loose," Robbie and Swish, Jorgie and your all-time favorite, yes, even A-Rod. They hold the key to the Sox being gainfully employed in October.
Here's why. The Rays not only have to make up a 3-game deficit against the Sox with just 16 games left, but they have to do so by playing the Yankees seven times in a span of eight days. That includes four games in three days in the Bronx next week -- right after playing four against the Sox in Fenway.
Sorry, but the Rays' playoff hopes will not survive that gauntlet. Truth be told, the Rays' hopes will be on life support by the end of this weekend in the Fens. Boston will do no worse than split at home against Tampa Bay, whose wonderful starting pitching has done a great job of masking its offensive shortcomings and sketchy bullpen, one that took a hit over the weekend when closer Kyle Farnsworth was shut down with a tender elbow.
Yes, the Rays just promoted their best pitching prospect, left-hander Matt Moore, in hopes of duplicating the magic conjured by a similar September call-up of another great young arm, David Price, three years ago, which carried the Rays to the World Series. And Moore's numbers are dazzling -- 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA in a combined 27 starts between Double-A and Triple-A, and a minor league-leading 12.2 K's per nine innings. He is the very definition of an X factor.
"Like to use Matt Moore kinda like we did with Price in 08," Rays manager Joe Maddon tweeted Monday afternoon, before the Rays played the Orioles in Baltimore in the opener of an 11-game trip. "Let's see if history can repeat itself."
But go back and look at '08. Price's effect that season didn't come until after the Rays made it to the playoffs and he'd had the benefit of five appearances, including one start, in the big leagues. Sure, Moore might thrive in a baptism by fire, a la Francisco Rodriguez with the Angels in 2002, but that's asking an awful lot when you have a 3-game deficit staring at you.
Give tremendous credit to the Rays. Like the Red Sox, they began the season 0-6, and they took much longer to recover. On Aug. 7, they were 10 games behind the Yankees in the wild-card race and 11 games behind the Sox, who were in first place in the American League East at the time. They've played at a .696 pace (23-10) since then, including seven walk-off wins. In the span of the past six days, they picked up 5 games on the Sox by going 5-0 while Boston lost five straight.
But now the Red Sox are back home for 10 games, including four next week against the last-place Orioles while the Rays are in the Bronx. The Sox have not lost more than three games in a row at home all season. It was at home that the Sox recovered from their dreadful 2-10 start, a recovery that began with a three-game sweep against the Blue Jays by a combined 21-3 score, the same Blue Jays that are here the next two nights.
Yes, the Sox starting pitching remains in shambles, which has had the ripple effect of straining a bullpen that has sprung a major leak in the person of Matt Albers.
"We're not getting very good starting pitching right now," Epstein said in an interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI on Monday morning. "Our bullpen is in a downturn. We have some guys who are not having the kind of at-bats they've had over the course of the season. We're not playing great defense. We're making some mistakes when the ball is in play. A little bit of everything has contributed to it.
"When you have a run of bad starting pitching, it does tax the bullpen. There's a little bit of an effect on the offense as well. These guys go to bat early in the game feeling like they're down 5-0. Sometimes they are; sometimes it just feels that way. Especially with our kind of approach where you need to be patient, you need to have good at-bats and have the other guy drive you in, kind of a group offense mentality. It's hard to have those kind of at-bats when you feel like you have to put a crooked number on the board all the time.''
That starts to change this week. Josh Beckett tested his sprained right ankle off a mound Monday, and the Sox expect him to start one of the games against the Rays this weekend. Jon Lester also is on schedule to face the Rays, and he's simply too good to have back-to-back stinkers against Tampa Bay. No word on Kevin Youkilis yet, and his hip and sports hernia could require more time off, but anyone who watched Dustin Pedroia barrel some balls last weekend -- including one that B.J. Upton ran down in the gap Sunday for the game's biggest defensive play -- knows his slump is about to end, maybe in a big way.
"I'm fine,'' Pedroia said with his typical defiance. "I had a tough road trip (3-for-31, .097). I could have had six more hits. I'm not worried about it. I'm over it.''
So, too, are the Sox. They are simply too good, regardless of the evidence that suggests the contrary, to keep playing at a 2-9 clip. That's not homerism; that's fact, backed by more than four months of superb baseball. They will soon restore order to their universe. And if they don't, the Yankees will.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.